Tag Archives: Pesto

Lamb burgers with mint pesto and whipped feta

I’ve already discussed the life-changing burger bun I had in New Zealand. Now let’s talk about what was in it.

I’m not normally much of a burger girl. I’m not anti-burger, by any means–I’ll happily eat one if it’s what’s on offer–but for the most part it’s not high on my list of beloved foods. It takes a really spectacular burger to make me sit up and take notice. And this one did.

I’m basically reconstructing this from memory, but the flavors and sensations made a pretty deep impression. First there was that wonderful pumpkin bun, squishy and sweet and crunchy on top. Then there was the lamb itself, juicy and gamy and just salty enough. And then there were the condiments, smeared just out of sight under the lid: something minty, and something smooth with feta in it. The whole thing was topped off with a cluster of julienned carrot (and a slice of beet, which I immediately removed). Each bite had just the right amount of bready squish, a little carroty crunch, a little salty feta tang, a little grassy mintiness, and a morsel of earthy lamb. God, it was wonderful.

So, for Fourth of July week, what better way to blog than by recreating a burger I had in another British colony? And here it is: a juicy lamb patty, on a bun slathered with mint pesto and whipped feta dip, and topped with shards of carrot. It’s savory and salty and herby and sweet and crunchy, and I’m pretty sure it’s my favorite burger I’ve ever made. The ingredient list looks a little long and complex–you’re basically making two separate condiments from scratch. But because you can make both in the food processor, they come together in minutes, and each can be done several days or even a week ahead. (I normally make pesto by hand, with a knife, but all that lovely texture would be lost here. The machine is fine.)

Burger-cookery is a pretty personal thing, and I definitely have my preferences. For me, a 1/3 pound burger is the perfect size–not too big, not too small. I try not to compact or squeeze the meat too much as I’m shaping it, so that it’ll stay juicy and relatively light. I like to make the burgers just a tad larger than the circumference of the buns I’m using, because they shrink as they cook. And I season the outside of the burgers, rather than the inside, for no other reason than that it means I don’t have to dirty a mixing bowl.

Oh, and a note on the buns. I didn’t have time to make bread from scratch for these photos, so I bought some good-quality buns, and the burgers were just fine. They’ll taste great on pretty much any bun. But please, if you have the time and inclination, I beg you, do try making pumpkin buns for these burgers. They really elevate each other. They belong together. They sing.

lamb mint pesto whipped feta burger

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Parsley miso pesto

This one started with a fridge cleanout. I opened one of the crisper drawers and unearthed most of a bunch of parsley, about a week old (leftover from making stuffed tomatoes, I think). The leaves were slowly darkening and turning brittle, and it was clear they were at their use-or-lose point. Of course, when life hands you a bunch of herbs, the natural thing to do is make pesto; but, as the rest of the fridge-cleaning revealed, we had neither nuts nor cheese around. What we did have was a tub of white miso, which I’d bought for some other cooking project that ultimately flopped. So I decided to experiment a little, and see what a vegan, nut-free pesto might be like.

As it turned out, miso makes a surprisingly appealing pesto. I was concerned about texture, but the miso easily replaced both the waxy bulk of the nuts and the salty stickiness of the cheese. It looked and felt just like an ordinary pesto, lightly bound and made moist with olive oil. I used a knife, as per usual, and the whole thing came together quickly and without fuss. In fact, I think it was faster to make than my usual pesto; the knife glided through the miso paste, instead of having to bite chunks of nuts and gather flecks of cheese with each stroke.

I will say, though, that if you came to this expecting an exact replica of Italian pesto, you’d be disappointed. This is different from the nut-and-cheese version, and majorly flavorful in its own right. It’s lighter and more relaxed than the traditional stuff, and the mass that binds the herbs and garlic together is soft instead of slick. The miso is subtle but definitely present; instead of the earth tones of nuts, there’s a grassy undercurrent of soy. The saltiness is deeper and blunter than it would be from cheese. This version feels even more summery than regular pesto, if that’s possible; the greenness of the parsley is really front and center.

Because of the unmistakable miso flavor, I don’t think I’d use this on pasta. Rice, perhaps, or some other grain; maybe as a spread on bread; perhaps as a coating for roasted potatoes. I could see it spread and rolled in a piece of meat, or basted on chicken, or stirred into vegetable soup, or folded into scrambled eggs. But, in my mind, this pesto is really tailor-made for seafood, and specifically fish. I thinned out my batch of pesto with some lemon juice and a splash of hot water, and used it as a sauce on simply seared white fish: incredible. So light, so sophisticated, so much flavor in so few bites.

parsley miso pesto fish

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Spinach scallion pesto

This post is really more about a technique than a recipe. Oh, the recipe is nice, too: a mellow deep-green pesto of spinach and scallions, a little onionier and greenier than the norm. I thought it up as a way to use up leftover scallions or scallion parts, hanging around after recipes that call for only part of a bunch. Sam and I ate our pesto over pasta, with poached eggs–a simple, surprisingly filling summer lunch. It’d also be dandy as a sauce for simply cooked fish, or spread on flatbread or pizza. Just a good, solid, early-summer condiment.

Normally, I make pesto by hand, using the largest knife I have and chopping in handfuls of ingredients at a time. I love making pesto this way, watching the piles of ingredients transform under the blade. But in this case, I had some strong scallions–just cutting them into rough chunks made me tear up. I didn’t relish the idea of chopping and blinking and sniffling for twenty minutes straight. And, in all honesty, I was hungry NOW. I wanted lunch faster than the knife and cutting board would allow.

So I decided to cheat a little, by using the food processor for part of the process. This still isn’t your typical blended pesto–I just used the processor to chop down the solids into a rough mass, about the same as I would with a knife. I tested it for readiness the same way, by pressing a bit of it with my fingers to see if it held together. Then I scooped the finished mess into a bowl and poured over extra virgin olive oil, just like I do with the handmade pesto. The results were damn close to the handmade stuff–I missed a little of the nubbly texture, but it was still leaps and bounds lighter and more interesting than the oily, emulsified pestos that usually come out of processors.

This is a neat trick to know, because it puts really good homemade pesto–the kind you can’t replicate with storebought–within the realm of the 10-minute meal. Plus, keeping the olive oil out of the processor entirely means that it won’t turn bitter from contact with the metal blades (which the extra virgin stuff tends to do). So not only is this a fancier pesto, it’s a better-tasting one too. Not bad for a cheater trick.

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Pizza, no stone required

This is probably a first for this lil’ blog here: a recipe that’s longer than the post that leads it in.

Fear not–it also takes more time to read than it does to make.

And it proves a great point: you do not need expensive specialized equipment to make restaurant-style foods at home. In particular, you don’t need a pizza stone to make terrific pizza–beautifully blistered and crackly-crisp on the bottom.

Once again, it’s cast iron to the rescue.

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Making it up as I go

This week has been INSANITY.  Sheer, near-unmitigated insanity.  So, instead of something eloquent and carefully-crafted, here’s a soup I made up.

This is the perfect example of what happens with a bunch of odds and ends and a lot of time on my hands.  I had shrimp shells in the freezer, left over from my last lemon-caper experiment. I had a powerful hankering for a bowl of soup with pesto on top. And I had a germ of an inspiration, thanks to a video about Tex-Mex chowdah.

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My mama loves me; she loves me…

A day late and a dollar short, but…Happy Mother’s Day anyway!

My mother is, without doubt, the most bestest mama I’ve ever met. She’s five feet tall, 100 pounds, and the purest example I know of the Mexican jumping bean in human form. She’s always moving, always doing, always thinking and wondering and checking up on business. She’s a bottomless well of unconditional love and nurture, mixed with a healthy dose of clear-eyed practicality. She’s endearingly, sometimes cringe-inducingly silly; she will regularly crack herself up to tears before even reaching the punch line of a joke. And she’s the only woman I know who has never given her firstborn child grief for the horrific length of time she spent in labor with her. (Sorry, Mom. I hope it was worth it.)

So of course, when Mother’s Day came around, I jumped at the chance to cook for her. I’ve written before about my impulse to shower people with love in the form of food. So I made dinner.

And, if I may say so, I knocked it out of the park.

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The power of a dollop

It’s such a shameful cliche to say it’s all in the details. But cliches achieve their status for a reason: they’re most often true.

Back in college, I took pride in my lack of detail-orientedness. (Detail-orientation?) I was practically detail-averse. I’m an artist, I said. I don’t have brain-space for such things. But somewhere in the transition to the working world, something happened. I became…organized. I began obsessing over minutiae. I started color-coding things.

Well, maybe organized isn’t the right word. My bedroom floor is still blanketed with clothing, and my desk at work is shingled willy-nilly with paper. And truth is, I’ve always been a perfectionist of the highest order; I just didn’t always know which details to tweak to catapult my projects ever-closer to perfection. But now I’m figuring these things out. I’m zeroing in on the little things. I’m learning.

Which brings me to pesto.

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